Mud season sounds like the most wonderful time of year! Who doesn't LOVE mud???!!! We can get all shred nasty and commit to the rut while channeling our inner Belgian. No actually. Mud season is terrible. Or at least in my opinion it is. Riding on soft, muddy trails when they are in a thaw/freeze mode damages the trails. As does walking, riding a horse or letting packs of dogs run on them but I digress. Regulations vary in the Greater Boston area. NEMBA has done a great job working with the DCR on targeting the most sensitive time to ban usage in certain trail systems. The DCR used to have a ban from January to April 15. NEMBA negotiated a much more reasonable ban that is from March 1st - March 31st. Other areas can be a bit lengthier. The photo above is from Caryl Park. You can see it is March 1-April 30. March is a time of year when ALL trail users should avoid muddy trails. As a cyclist in this area we have to understand we have a responsibility to trail stewardship. We are very lucky to have so much access. And as much as it gets me going when authority figures dictate what I can or can't do they have been meeting us in the middle with this. March means no riding in the Fells or Blue Hills. Be smart and don't ride on soft trails. Ride on gravel or when the ground is frozen. Or ride the road! March is a great time to hit the road after a winter couped up inside.
Ok PSA over. Back to the #CBL! The other title for this post was going to be March: In like a lamb, out like a lion. It is my new mantra. Or hope. Or intention. I am beyond like a lamb right now. I am more like a Panda. Or the Panda of the NECX. I honestly don't remember being this out of shape before. It happens. Life. Getting old. Kids. Blah, blah blah. No excuses. So now its time to dig out. And what better way than a magic unicorn of a bike called RoboZank! This bike is a couple of years in the making. It has evolved from team SSCX bikes. Influences have come from many different people and things. The biggest influencer as always is the actual riding. If you tune into this here bloggity blog you know what I like. Well other than beer and cats. I like riding CXenduro style adventures with friends. Gravel is such an inelegant word for we do. And I think gravel to most means 80% pavement with some lame ass fire road thrown in. We ride our CX bikes on mtn bike trails. Why? Because it is fun. Fun? How is taking away two decades of advancements and risking life and limb on skinny tires fun? We are sick bastards what can I tell you.
So you get it. We wanted to develop a CX bike that could handle technical mountain bike trails. Now before you get all hot and bothered I am not saying we are hucking this thing off rock drop offs in NTF. Or even riding NTF. Ok we ride through NTF to the rail trail. And sometimes bounce around on some of the more fun less murdery trails. A CX bike if it is smartly equipped can handle anything. You just have to be smart or as Colin (or was it Adam) would say you now have a pencil instead of an eraser. So yes you have to revert to that old school style of rigid, v-brake, paying attention, picking your lines and being smooth style of riding. It allows you to put 40, 50 or 60 mile rides together very easily. We have so many cool little parks and trails that weave in and out of different towns. There really is a paradigm shift happening. Sure there are some holdouts…cough Dover cough sucks cough. But most towns are embracing building rail trails, establishing trail easements and creating little footpaths. It has changed how I view riding. When I step out for a "road" ride I am constantly peeking into the woods looking for the next secret stash.
Ok so about the bike. It is a Zanconato. Built by my good friend Mike. Mike is on a whole other level with his building right now. He transitioned from lugged steel (which he still does and quite well!) to TIG Aluminum and steel. I love aluminum. I was a firm believer in steel. Until I rode a Rock Lobster Team TIG. Then everything changed. Aluminum is fantastic. Great ride quality. Durable and light. Mike in a very short time has taken the bikes to that magic level. This sky blue bike is a second generation of the team bike. It is the exact same as the first one. And yet somehow rides like a magic unicorn. Mike says its the same but it is better than the old one. I could tell immediately. I was able to whip it around in a way that I just haven't before. As stated earlier, I am in horrible shape. My first ride I smashed a little KOM in my backyard. It won't stand. But like I said you stomp on the pedals and the bike takes off. I noticed that today on a longer ride. I got tired but the bike didn't. I would accelerate and the bike would just go! I think this is what I like about aluminum bikes done well. They are all business.
Ok I know I am going a bit over the top. This happens when I get one of Mikey's bikes. But let's talk details. Frame as previously mentioned is aluminum. Deda. Fork is ENVE. But the magic is in the details. We went with a bit of a Franken-drivetrain. In our team prototypes we played with different hydro brakes. The shimano are hands down the best. No debate there. Di2 is so nice. It made converting the SSCX into a nice 1x very simple. We spent some time on the 1x and quickly became enamored by it. I prefer it. But there are some limiters. Di2 Ultegra is limited to 11-32. That is a fine range with a double. 50/34 with 11-32 can handle anything. But we wanted a 1x for simplicity. Ben Berden has been using 1x for cross for a while. I saw his hack of the new TRP Hylex and thought how cool that would be. For CX racing a 11-32 is plenty of range. But if you want to do D2R2 or VT Overland you are going to want a 1:1. 40 x 32 would be brutal. At least for me. Sean Rudzinsky and I talked a ton about this whole idea. He always said going with an XTR rear would be the sick set up. And he is right. By using an XTR Di2 rear mech you can go 11-40. With a 40 front ring you have that 1:1 that is needed for long days and lots of elevation.
Yes, the XTR rear mech is crazy expensive. And its in a vulnerable area. But people drop money on carbon wheels like it is no problem. $2,000 on a set of wheels seems crazy to me. I am sure lots of people think a $500 rear derailler is nuts. An XT version is coming. That should make it a bit more reasonable. And the TRPs are much cheaper than the Ultegra Di2 hydros. So do the TRPs work as nice as the Shimano? No. Shimano's are 10. TRP are 8.5. Shimano's are one finger on off braking. They go full stop with one finger. That is impressive. They don't fade and they rarely squeal. TRPs have more lever feel. Sort of like cantis in a way. I like that about them. But once you get past the initial drag its full stop. They squeal a bit when dirty. But do not fade. I really like them. They sort of fit my riding style. And I really prefer the ergonomics of the hoods. The Shimanos would cause me some pain on long rides. I have some wrist issues. The TRP have a nice long hood that allows me to open up my wrist and get into a natural position.
The hack, which I bow down to TRP for, involves a Shimano climbing button. Usually it goes on the tops of the bars to shift will climbing. It is more a switch than a button like on the lever of a Di2. TRP designed a little port into the inside of the brake lever. You cut out the grip and zip tie it in and voila you basically have a Campy style Di2 shifter. I grew up on Campy and love shifting with my thumb. It was probably the single biggest adjustment when I went form Campy to SRAM and then to Shimano. So how does it work. Flawlessly. The XTR Di2 changes across the range with zero effort. Just zip zap and pew pew. I would say the other huge advantage to a CXenduro bike is tubeless tires. Again I was a late adopter to this. Just like the disc brakes. I wanted to see how it would shake out. My friend David Deitch's follies with tubeless were like watching a train wreck. Over and over again. But the technology caught up. There are enough quality tubeless ready tires that you can pick what you want for your riding. There are lots of great tubeless ready wheels and rims. It seems like we have a new tubeless wheel company pop up onto our radar each day! The wheels I have been using are made by November and are basically Stan's Grails with November hubs. It has changed everything.
Being able to run 35 psi on a rocky trail is a game changer. And being able to race and ride the same set of wheels is fantastic. I have been known in the past to ride tubulars in the woods because I was too lazy to change wheels. Now I don't need to worry about it. I am pretty sure I will race tubeless next year in the actual cross season. I don't see what I would go back to tubulars after my experience with these wheels and tires. Speaking of tires. I won't lie I can be a CX Diva. I am very picky. And I tend to notice tiny little things. And sometimes those things get in my head. I have been riding really fat tires all winter. On the fat bike. And on my mtn bike. Transitioning back to skinny tires has been an adjustment! I love the Specialized Terra. Its a 33. Which is a good size. But I miss my 40 Nanos. I am too lazy to swap them out. And I like the faster 33s. But if you have never tried a 40 you really should. So fun in the woods. You still have to pay attention but it really smooths things out. Especially tubeless.
I have had two rides on the bike and it already feels like a bike I have been on for years. Well, in fairness it is. It just happens to be new! Lots of exploring to do. The bike is going to get a lot of action this Spring/Summer. So excited to hit Vermont and get some nice dirt riding in. We will dial in our Southern X route. The BCT has been a huge boon for linking up some rad trails. HUGE thanks to Mike Z for always putting up with full auto ADD and making the magic happen.